Friday, 25 July 2014

More than Just a “Suit” going on a field trip...

As I prepared to write this blog entry, I had a look at my calendar and realized that I will already have completed seven of the twelve weeks of my MB summer work term. It is truly incredible how time flies when you work in a fast-paced environment such as this, where you learn something new every day and you get challenged on a regular basis. The office in Ottawa is a great place to work; located in Ottawa’s downtown core, it has the pleasant, collegial feel of a small firm while still retaining the excitement and thrill of a larger firm through its affiliation with the Toronto office. Throughout these seven weeks, I have been very fortunate to work on a variety of files with exceptionally respectable lawyers. The truth is, I could write a blog entry for all the tasks I've completed and it would be an interesting read (OK, almost all the tasks). However, for this one, I've chosen to talk about my two trips to a wonderful town in the beautiful province of Quebec.

"a fire...brought the project to an unfortunate stop."

MB is currently working on a matter involving a construction project in this town. This construction was taking place on a bridge’s pillars, and a fire on one of these pillars brought the project to an unfortunate stop. We retained an expert to assist in the forensic investigation of the site, who joined three expert engineers of the other parties in trying to determine the cause of the fire. Since these three engineers were all locals from Quebec while our expert was a uni-lingual Anglophone (besides a few “Allo’s” and “oui oui’s” here and there), I was charged with making sure nothing got lost in translation. Being bilingual does have its advantages and it felt great to be able to put that skill into use to contribute.

The first time I got on to the construction site, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I had a fairly nice shirt and running shoes on, but I quickly realized that I should have been wearing to the very least steel toe boots, as is typically required on such a site. So I did a quick scan of the area, hopped in one of the crew trailers and kindly asked the workers if I could borrow some gear. Next thing you know, I was ready to go with my steel toe Dunlop boots, safety vest, gloves and my trusted hard hat. Who said lawyers always had to wear a suit?

I climbed my way up the scaffolding and walked along a narrow walkway located on the underside of the bridge to get to the pillar. The layout was very interesting: a steel casing was installed around the pillar, from the base of the river up to about 40 feet, and there were 4 levels of wooden planks that we could walk on. I climbed down the ladder from the walkway to the fourth level and was given a detailed explanation of the site by our knowledgeable expert. The rubble from the fire had accumulated mainly on second and third levels. The first visit was mainly just an assessment of the work that needed to be done on the site, so after a walk around the pillar and a tour of the third level, we were out of there. However, on my second trip, the plan was to have the experts examine the rubble while the construction crew followed behind and threw out the useless pieces, which was unfortunately most of what we found.

"before I knew it, I was down on the second and third levels, shoveling away a mix of burnt two-by-fours, electrical wiring and wet ash."

At first, the experts and I were walking with our flashlights, taking pictures and notes while the workers were hauling burnt pieces of wood and shoveling the rubble. However, before I knew it, I was down on the second and third levels, shoveling away a mix of burnt two-by-fours, electrical wiring and wet ash. I’ve worked in construction before and it felt great to be able to help out, all while searching excitedly to find the one piece of evidence that would explain the cause. As our expert told me, investigations of fires can be like searching for a needle in a haystack without being sure that the needle exists. There’s a good chance that the cause cannot be determined, but it’s necessary to look through the entire evidence to be able to confirm that. Therefore, we shoveled away for most of the day, and headed to a warehouse the next day to examine what pieces we had found.

Copyright: bokica / 123RF Stock Photo
I felt this story was a good one to share because it demonstrates at what point it is important to be adaptable in our profession. I’m not saying that most of us will be throwing on a hard hat any time soon but it is incredible to see how diversified this type of work is. After only seven weeks here, I've become familiar with various types of claims that always involve a new and exciting scenario. Our profession requires us to become experts in plenty of fields, sometimes overnight, and I believe it is one reason why working as a lawyer is such a thrilling experience. As I was shoveling, one of the crew members looked at me and asked me who I was. I told him I was a lawyer, and my laugh said it all: More than just a “Suit”!
Alex R.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Murder on Bay Street!

Although the title of this post would probably make a great Hollywood Blockbuster, (notwithstanding that a car-chase scene through Toronto’s notorious traffic would be kind of lame), the title in fact alludes to the convergence of criminal law and civil law in several files being worked on at McCague Borlack.

I thought my criminal law days were behind me. How wrong I was.

Coming to MB as I did, with two summer experiences working for a criminal defence lawyer, I thought my criminal law days were behind me. How wrong I was. It is true of course that the wheelhouse of MB is civil litigation and that strictly criminal law cases are not the norm at the firm. However, just because a file is not directly a criminal matter does mean that the Criminal Code or other such pieces of legislation are of no use at the firm. Quite to the contrary.

In my 3rd week at the firm, just as I was getting accustomed to the pulse of the place and finally had mapped my route to the soda machine, I was informed by one of my supervising lawyers that I was to attend at a preliminary hearing (“prelim” in lawyer speak) in a high profile murder, for 3 consecutive days. For those who are not aware a prelim is a stage in criminal proceedings where material is presented to a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice in order to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to set a matter down for trial in Ontario Superior Court. As it turns out our client is involved in a civil suit in relation to this murder and therefore we needed to learn as much as possible from the criminal proceedings in order to mount a strong defence for our client in the civil suit.

The experience of watching senior criminal defense counsel and Crown Attorney’s examine and cross-examine witnesses in such a high profile case was truly an invaluable experience. I particularly enjoyed watching the different styles exhibited by the various counsel when questioning a recalcitrant witness or when catering to the judge’s wishes. I also should not forget to mention the relatively late starting time of 10:00 AM, allowing me time to catch up on much needed sleep!

image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos by Simon Howden
Beyond murder cases, which I (thankfully) admit are a rarity, criminal matters crop up in several other instances. As an example, I am working on a multi-million dollar civil claim that was the result of a serious motor vehicle accident. The police, who were called on scene, eventually compiled an extensive report and laid several criminal charges. Part of mounting a good defence for the client in cases like this one, includes reviewing these reports and following up on the criminal charges. However, these materials are typically not available to the public in full unless a court orders them to be. Therefore, I am currently in the process of drafting motion materials for what is known as a Wagg Application, which will hopefully grant us access to the information we need in order to mount the best defence possible for our client.

These experiences and others have taught me that the work this firm does is multifaceted and that working in a civil litigation firm does not mean that all other areas of life and law are off limits. On the contrary, working at a litigation boutique allows one exposure to most every aspect of life and law, and I am confident will provide me with a stimulating and interesting career.
Aryeh S.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

This is Sparta!!!

Before attending law school, the thought of working at a Bay Street firm the size of MB was only a dream and nothing more – but here I am, a month later, and I still can’t believe this feeling of energy and excitement.

At the end of the work day... you realize you would not trade this profession for any other out there.

Every morning is the same for me – I wake up, eat my breakfast and take the same route to work. However, every evening is different – I might leave the office at 6:00 p.m. with time to socialize or stay until 11:00 p.m. with barely enough time to get home and sleep. Whichever it is, at the end of the day when I walk out of the Exchange Tower onto the busy street filled with honking taxis, enormous skyscrapers, and various people hurrying to their next destination point, I realize I would not trade this profession for any other out there.

Now let’s talk about the variety of the work itself. One day, I get to work on settling a small claims file that is worth a couple thousand dollars, the next, be assisting a partner on a matter that is worth millions; I might work on a subrogation file, assist a lawyer on a labour and employment file or tag along to mediation on an accident benefits file.

The work itself is distributed in three ways:

The Rotation List
This default way is, just as the name suggests, the law students are rotated in as the work assignments flood the e-mail account.

The Walk-In
This second way means that you did work for a lawyer, while in rotation, and they liked it and now request you directly, either because you are already familiar with the file or you are just so good at what you do!

Area of Interest
For the purpose of this blog I will call this third way “area of interest” which means that you found a specific area of law interesting and you approached lawyers from that practice asking them to keep you in mind for any upcoming assignments.

courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net  "Attack" by farconville
When Worlds Collide
So what happens when I am next in line on the rotation list, a walk-in assigns me a task directly, and three lawyers are e-mailing me with "area of interest" assignments, and all are due that same day? At that point excitement really kicks in and you jump on your desk and scream at the top of your lungs – “THIS IS SPARTA!!!” … Well kind of...  or maybe you don't jump on your desk and, okay you just whisper lightly under your breath – but you get the point.

The assignments are interesting, complex, and each unique in its own way. The lawyers are supportive, encouraging, and really take the time to explain the context of the file before leaving you to work on it by yourself. The only scary part about this summer experience is when you begin to realize just how much you like the work, the people, and the lifestyle at MB.
Bogdan M.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Comparing Reality to the Suits TV Show...

Exciting, fast-paced, freedom.

Suits (tv show) may not perfectly depict our profession; however the key elements are there...

These were the first three words that came to mind when I was asked to reflect on my first month at MB. Although a dedicated “Suits” (the USA Network television show) fan, I acknowledge that the show glamourizes the legal profession. As I get further into the summer, I realize that Suits may not perfectly depict our profession; however the key elements are there.

Exciting.

Who can say they don’t, at some point in their life, want to work in one of the pristine towers in Toronto’s financial core? That is after all where the great legal drama, Suits is filmed.

It may have been intimidating at first but the students, lawyers, clerks and assistants at MB are truly a great support network. They teach me something new everyday and are some of the friendliest people, let alone professionals, that I have ever met. The bond between Harvey, Mike, Donna and even Louis is not something that only makes for a good storyline.

Fast-paced.

Then you have litigation that adds a sense of suspense, strategy, and of course excitement to the at times mundane paperwork. If you’ve seen Suits, you are likely well aware that in the world of litigation, things can change at the drop of a hat, which is likely why even the ingenious Mike is constantly scrambling. However, instead of a quick lunch at the corner hot dog stand, we struggle with navigating through the Path, which is more a maze than a path.

Last week, I assisted with drafting a rush factum for a responding motion. Before I knew it, 9 pm had turned into 10 pm, which subsequently turned into 12:30 am. However by the end of the night, we had put the finishing touches on our factum. I headed home exhausted but proud of my work. Around 10 am the next morning an email from opposing counsel arrived, enclosing an offer to settle. With our client’s best interests in mind, we settled which of course amounted to the immediate abandonment of the factum.

What’s an entire night’s worth of work and an unserved factum? The understanding that it’s all a means to an end.

Freedom.

With a fast-paced setting comes a mountain of work. MB entrusts its summer students with a lot of responsibility, including carriage over 8-12 Small Claims files. It is up to each student to track deadlines and limitation periods, update clients, draft pleadings, and push the file forward. The work may appear daunting at first but you receive a lot of direction, whether you have solicited it or lawyers sit down with you and offer their words of wisdom.

Your summer is what you make it, whether it is managing your workload or the hours that you put in on a daily basis. Harvey may look over what Mike does but he also expects Mike to pull his own weight.

It’s a great feeling to know you’re building your career in a supportive environment that offers you the excitement of gaining a variety of new experiences everyday. As Harvey Specter once said, “the only time “success” comes before “work” is in the dictionary.” He really does have the best lines.
Christine L.